Ngatata Love's dementia and probable Alzheimers did not prevent the judge from taking into account his evidence in his fraud trial, while Shaan Stevens, who gave evidence against Love, was an unsatisfactory witness, the judge said.
The former Treaty negotiator was found guilty of obtaining property by deception in the High Court fraud trial over his dealings with property developers while chairman of the Wellington Tenths Trust.
Love was remanded on bail before sentencing on October 6, with a pre-sentence report directed to contain a home detention appendix which Justice Graham Lang said was "not to be taken as an indication of the sentence that will be imposed."
The judge agreed not to enter a conviction before sentencing, at the request Love's lawyer, Colin Carruthers QC.
The charges came from a Serious Fraud Office investigation into a $1.5 million payment from a land developer into a trust controlled by Love's partner, Lorraine Skiffington, which was then used to repay a property loan on a Plimmerton house he and Skiffington co-owned. It was the first installment of what was intended to be a $3 million payment.
Love's medical conditions were suppressed throughout the trial, but that suppression was lifted with the verdict today.
The defence called Love's doctor, Anthony Duncan, a forensic psychiatrist in Wellington, to give evidence on Love's impairment. The doctor had been present during the trial observing Love's condition.
Duncan said Love had dementia and had at times appeared "overloaded" during questioning from the Crown and his own lawyers, and it was likely the impairment meant Love couldn't process the questions he was being asked in order to respond to them appropriately. However, the judge ultimately determined his condition had no great bearing on the case.
"I had noticed the same phenomenon whilst Dr Love gave his evidence, and had reached the same conclusion," Justice Lang said in his written judgment.
"I need to be careful not to draw conclusions adverse to Dr Love solely by virtue of the manner in which he responded to questions that he obviously found difficult to answer. I accept that his inability to answer some questions reflected his underlying mental impairment rather than a desire to avoid answering difficult questions. I record that in his closing address Mr Burston for the Crown accepted that such an approach was appropriate. As it happens, this particular issue is not of great moment because Dr Love was firm in his denial of the key aspects of the Crown's case."
When giving evidence, Duncan said Love's illness could have appeared years before Love was diagnosed, possibly as early as 2006 when the events which were subject of the fraud trial occurred, though Love was not Duncan's patient at the time. Duncan said the impairment could have affected Love's "badness detectors" in relation to the people he did business with.
I had noticed the same phenomenon whilst Dr Love gave his evidence, and had reached the same conclusion.
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The judge also found that Shaan Stevens, a Crown witness and former director of Skiffington's Pipitea Street Developments, had been an unsatisfactory witness. Justice Lang said Stevens was closely involved in the key events which led to the charges and there was a risk he had given evidence influenced by a desire to distance himself and blame Love and Skiffington.
Stevens told the court he had never seen a letter which was sent to the property developers on Nov. 23, 2006, with a counter-proposal asking for $4 million as a lease premium rather than $3 million, but Andrew Henderson, a partner in the Wellington law firm Gault Mitchell, said the letter had come from Stevens who had given it to him to transfer to Gault Mitchell letterhead and send to the developers. The judge said he preferred Henderson's evidence as there was no reason for him to be mistaken or lie about the issue.
"Had this been a trial by jury, I would, therefore have given the jury a direction that they needed to treat Mr Stevens' evidence with real caution," Justice Lang said.
"He has been shown to be an unsatisfactory witness in several respects, and may well have motive to give false or misleading evidence prejudicial to Dr Love and Ms Skiffington. I therefore treat Mr Stevens's evidence with real caution."
In his summing up last week, Love's lawyer Carruthers had told the judge that he had no option but to find Stevens' evidence was unreliable as he had told a "bare-faced lie."